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Innovating Women Leaning In to Tell Their Own Stories

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Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

The technology industry has a gender problem. The vast majority of its Venture Capitalists are male as are the founders of its startups and its technology heads. Even the boards of its public companies are dominated by males.

It isn't that women are not up to the job. The problem is that they are discouraged and left out. During childhood, girls are often sent the wrong signals by their parents. When they go to school, girls with an interest in engineering and science are called "tomboys". When they defy the odds and become scientists or engineers, women are often treated as inferior and passed over for promotion.

Sadly, the deck has always been stacked against women--right through the ages. For example, in the 1730s, a brilliant woman mathematician, Emilie du Châtelet, translated and popularized Sir Isaac Newton's arcane Principia Mathematica, and created a foundation for Einstein to develop his theories. She inspired Voltaire's writings. But she received almost no recognition and few have ever heard of her. Similarly, a century later, Marie Curie, performed pioneering research on radioactivity for which she received two Nobel prizes, yet she is less of a household name as Kim Kardashian.

But things are changing. Women are achieving greater success as Google and Makers.comhave documented. They becoming more confident, assertive, and are helping each other as my research has shown. And women are speaking up.

Sheryl Sandberg told her amazing story in a best-selling book, Lean In. The book was powerful but subjected to intense criticism because this is her story--a privileged woman in Silicon Valley. Many women said that they could not relate to this.

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To bring to life the stories of average women all over the world, I am working with journalist Farai Chideya to crowd-create a new book. This will put the role of women in innovation into a historic perspective and then look forward. The book will discuss the challenges women have faced in different fields of innovation; how they achieved success as entrepreneurs and in the workplace; and strategies companies have employed to diversify their pool of talent and support women moving up the ladder.

Our goal is to provide a resource for women to learn from each other. We are crowdsourcing everything--including the funding of the project on Indiegogo. Our hope is that hundreds of women participate in this project. We will post detailed essays that women write on our website www.InnovatingWomen.org, and Farai will summarize their stories and distill their knowledge in the book. All of the proceeds from the book and whatever we raise on Indiegogo in excess of our costs will be used to support women to learn about advancing technologies at Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program and to fund their startups.

As I have often said, this is the most innovative time in human history--when entrepreneurs anywhere can solve big problems. Many technologies such as robotics, AI, 3D printing, nanomaterials, medicine, and synthetic biology are now advancing exponentially. This is making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve humanity's grand challenges. These challenges include the shortages of food, clean water, and energy and the problems of disease and health. Women will undoubtedly play a very important role in this new era of innovation. But we must level the playing field for them.

With crowd-sourcing of insights and funding, we can now more than ever enable women to solve our grand challenges.

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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.